Thursday, March 31, 2016

Easter Sunday at the Natural Bridge

It was a last minute decision to visit the Natural Bridge. We were driving on I81 toward home when Luke saw a sign for it on the side of the road. He recalled earlier that morning my mom had texted me something along the line of “do you remember 20 years ago on Easter, on the way back from visiting Tech, we went to the Natural Bridge?” Well, 20 years later, it just so happen to be Easter again...and when Luke saw the sign, he hopped off the interstate and made a detour to recreate this memory for me.

We got to the visitor center, and found out that admission for it is $20/pp. Kids 6 and under are free, so it would be $40 for us. Still way too expensive, and I was happy to just take a few pictures of the gift shop and leave. Still, I think Luke knew I sort of wanted to do it, so after some convincing from him (“we will never be back here again and this is the last year the kids are free”), we decided to go for it.
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The bridge was pretty magnificent, more so than I remembered as a 17-year old teenager. If I understood the guide correctly, it’s what’s left of an underground cavern that collapsed on all other sides. It’s got cool history (involving American Indians, Thomas Jefferson and some “G.W.” initial carved into the side that may or may not be George Washington’s).
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Seeing the giant stone bridge was only a portion of the visit. There was also a really beautiful path that we hiked, which meant more walking for the kids, but they entertained themselves by throwing rocks along the way. The path led to a scenic little waterfall (not pictured),
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but the best thing we came across was this Asian monkey.
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Anyway, the bridge pretty much concluded our Roanoke road trip (read: 1, 2, and 3). I love these kind of easy weekend trips that are just long enough to get us out of the daily grind but short enough that there isn't a lot to catch up on once we get home.
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Now We Need a Summary:

JOYCE
Fave: I would have said watching Luke's eyes lit up as he drove around Roanoke, but that was before he handed me a chicken filet biscuit from Hardee's. Oh my gawd, so goooood. That trumped everything.
Yuck: None!

LUKE
Fave: Seeing Roanoke
Yuck: Eating that hot dog at Owens

ANNA (age 6)
Fave: Swimming, but later changed her mind to "eating chips and watching TV."
Yuck: all the walking

WILL (age 4)
Fave: chips and TV
Yuck: all the walking

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

reminiscing at Virginia Tech

The other main reason why we decided on the Roanoke trip was also to visit Virginia Tech, which is about 45 minutes away from Roanoke. Luke and I met at this very university almost 20 years ago (!) and, even though I didn't graduate from Tech (I transferred to UVA after my second year), we have many fond memories here. It was definitely nostalgic walking around the campus and talking about the good old days ("Why did you come all the way to eat with me all the time?" haha). The kids walked a lot and the only enjoyment they got out of it was feeding ducks at the Duck Pond. The next trip we go on will be for them, I promise :)
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I think they say all students at Tech will have at least one class at McBryde 100 at some point during their 4 years at the university. This lecture hall was where Luke and I had our first class (intro to information systems) together, freshman year. It was the first few weeks of school and I was just sitting there (front row. btw) by myself, minding my own business, and this boy sat down right there to me.
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Luke showed the kids where he used to sit in this particular classroom inside Pamplin Hall. "Next to the door so it's easier to leave when the class is over."
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I actually didn't go to the picturesque Duck Pond all that much, but I knew the kids would enjoy feeding the ducks so I was prepared with bread. As luck would have it, there cherry blossoms were in bloom so it was even prettier. It made up for missing the blossoms at Meadowlark Gardens this year.
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This is the Drillfield, the main quad at Tech. On one side of the field is residential buildings, and the other side is all academic...with one exception. Luke, in his freshman year, somehow got assigned to live at the dumpy Thomas Hall, waaaaay out there in the middle of nowhere, on the academic side of the campus. This is how I knew that it wasn't all innocent when he would trek all the way across the Drillfield to eat dinners with me ;) Ah, memories.
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For lunch, we ate at Owens. When I was an undergrad, I got food to-go from this food court all the time to take back to my room. I enjoyed my chicken steak very much, it was as good as I remembered.
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I lived in this dorm (West AJ) for two years and had a great group of friends. Back then, not everyone have a personal computer and my roommate's Mac was like a communal computer for all of our hallmates. We all knew each others passwords! Our room was always open and a gathering place for all. Such fun and carefree days. I always say that the first year of my college life was the best.
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Well, I don't know if we will find ourselves back at Tech again. Tech is great and all, but soooo big and it's easy to get lost in the shuffle. If I can help it, I am encouraging my kids to go to a smaller university. But either way, we had a very good visit! Go Hokie!

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

An Underground Adventure at Dixie Caverns

On the second day of our Roanoke trip, we went on an underground adventure!
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Dixie Caverns, named after the dog who discovered it, is small in comparison to the other more well-known caverns in Virginia (such as Luray), but it was a perfect stop for us. I mean, the 45-minute tour was just short enough for the kids, but long enough for us to learn a thing or two. Plus the admission price was reasonable. Luke and I paid $12/pp (we had a coupon -- always check for those flyers at rest areas!) and Anna was $6. Will got in for free.

Care for a little tour? You are in luck :)

The first thing we did, after entering the cave, was climb a set of steps, which actually took us "up" into the mountain, as opposed to "down" underground.
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My favorite was the "Magic Mirror", a small chamber with a pool of water reflecting the amazing and complex stalactite ceiling. Doesn't it look like the water is a few feet deep, though?
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To get married under the "Wedding Bell", it will cost you $150. According to our guide, more than 50 couples have done it. Right here is also the lowest spot inside the caverns, which is merely 10 feet underground.
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All in all, as we climbed up and down roughly 350 steps, we saw amazing display of nature around every turn. Speaking of the steps, even though it seemed like a lot, it was very doable. The kids were able to do it without any problems.
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^^"Cathedral Room"^^

We took lots of pictures, but most came out fuzzy and now looking through them, I can't tell even tell what's what, so I will end the tour here :)

I think the kids were indifferent about the whole thing. Haha, they were not impressed with stalagmites and stalactites to say the least!

Well, Dixie Caverns might not be the grandest of caverns, but overall a decent experience. If you are in the Roanoke/Salem area and looking for a cool cave to try out, Dixie Caverns is a good option.

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Monday, March 28, 2016

5 great things to do in Roanoke Virginia

We just got back from an exotic and exciting Spring Break trip to Roanoke Virginia. Haha, “exotic and exciting” might be a liiiiiiittle stretch from the truth, and we were really only gone for 30 hours, but it was a good trip regardless. To recap our time in Roanoke, I thought I would share 5 things our family did in a simple list format.

1. Visit that old childhood home
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As far as I am concerned, Luke grew up in Roanoke. He will argue and say that he grew up in LA, but his time in Roanoke outlasted his time in LA by far, so yes, he’s a boy from the south :) This house, behind him and the kids, was the first house his family ever bought. His parents purchased it back in the mid-80s (I believe), raised 4 kids in it, and sold it in/around 2005 when they moved to NoVA to be closer to their kids. So...lots of memories tied to this house for sure! Once we got off I81, first on our agenda, before we did anything else, was drive to see this house.
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Throughout this trip, we also visited his old schools (there were so many! – two elementary schools, one middle school, and two high schools). Above is one of the old elementary schools, Highland Park, and the playground he used to play at (new play structures, though). The kids had a good time here!

2. Take a stroll around Downtown Roanoke and get a picture on the rooftop of Center in the Square
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I think Center in the Square is THE biggest attraction in downtown Roanoke. Inside this big building is home to several museums. We skipped the museums (they all have an entrance fee) and went straight to the rooftop (free) for great views of this little city. The kids had so much fun running around this open-air space.
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^^Hamming it up for the camera.^^
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^^The Koi pond was awesome.^^

Afterwards, we ate at the City Market Building right across the street. Warning: Do not get the Chinese food. But other than the mediocre lunch, our short stay in downtown Roanoke was excellent.

3. Stand underneath the 100-foot-tall Roanoke Star
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^^I love that Anna is giving me the bunny ears!^^

Nearly everywhere we drove in Roanoke, the kids would look up the mountain and exclaim, “I see the star!” For all visitors, the iconic Roanoke Star, located atop Mill Mountain, is a must-see. In our dating years, Luke took me out there once so it was very fun for me to see it again with the kids. The star illuminates every night and even though we really wanted to see it all lit up, now that it doesn’t get dark until after 8pm, it was just too hard for us to stay out that late.
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^^The scenic overlook at the base of the star is also a popular stop for views of the region.^^

4. Eat at K&W Cafeteria for the best Southern home-style cooking
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Luke’s family used to eat at this very eatery on special occasions inside Tanglewood Mall. You go in, grab a tray, point to whatever you want, get the receipt, pick a table, eat, and pay as you leave! I had, hands-down, the best chicken pot pie here. The baked spaghetti and the flaky fried fish were also very, very tasty. Best meal we had all weekend.

5. Swim in the hotel pool
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This trip was entirely for me and Luke. We knew the kids would get nothing out of it (we were mostly right), so we made sure to at least stay at a place with a pool. We ended up staying at a new-ish Hilton Garden Inn for two nights and, after long days of driving and walking, the kids were able to splash away. I am serious, all they need is a swimming pool and they are good.

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Overall, it was super neat to take a trip down memory lane with Luke. I think he enjoyed seeing his old stomping grounds very much. He kept on saying how close everything was! Like, it's less than 10 minutes to downtown Roanoke from his old home, but when he was little, he thought it was sooooo far.

Next: I will share the places we visited outside of Roanoke!

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Monday, March 21, 2016

An Egg-cellent Hunt

This year I signed the kids up for an Easter egg hunt at Colvin Run Mill. We did it two years ago and decided to go for it again this year. It was $6/per kid, but totally worth it for me to go to an organized event as oppose to a chaotic free one. Although the weather had been sunny and warm-ish the entire week, the temperature dropped over the weekend and rain/snow was the forecast. I don’t know how we always get so lucky, but the precipitation held off until we were in the car, driving home. So it was yet another successful egg hunt event!
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The only downer to the day was that Will wasn’t feeling well. He had stayed home the previous day from school due to a low-grade fever, but when Saturday morning came, he didn't want to miss out on the egg hunt. Once he got there, I think he was just really tired and needed a nap, so he wasn’t his happy self.
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Prior to the egg hunt at 11:15am, the kids made a couple of crafts and then the whole family took a walk around the mill. And here is something fun that happened. As we were finishing taking pictures in front of the big waterwheel, a mom with two kiddos came up to me and asked if I have a blog and said that she refers to it for places to go with kids. Hehe, I have been blogging for nearly 9 years and that was the first time someone came up to me and said something. Pretty cool :)

Okay, I guess there were actually two downers to the day. The second one being that just when the actual egg hunt was about to commence, my camera died. So no pictures of kids scrambling for eggs, but here is one after the egg hunt was over.
Easter egg hunt 2016 at Colvin Run Mill.
^^I can always tell when Will is tired by his eyes.^^

Anyway, Anna went as fast as she could and grabbed ~15 eggs (over the 8 egg limit, oops!) and Will got 7 eggs. There was actually another egg right in front of him, but he was too tired to even bend down to grab it.

We didn't open the eggs right then and there because the temperature was dropping steadily, but once we got home and the kids opened them, they were delighted by all the little treats.

I am guessing that this might be the last (or next to last) year that we will do Easter egg hunts. Kids are older now and the magic is almost gone. WHAAAAHH!!!

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Just one last note: Last year we "planted" jellybeans and it was a smashing hit. I am going to do it again this year and I just want to mention it again in case you are interested! It was so memorable for the kids that they are still talking about it. In fact, Anna wrote a story about it at school and it made her teachers laugh.

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Monday, March 14, 2016

hap, hap, happiest birthday anna!

A very happy happy birthday to my best girl!
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This year I managed to throw together a last-minute birthday party for Anna. It was very simple, but she loved it. First, we went to Chuck E Cheese's (her request) with a group of friends (5 kids total). Then, instead of eating there, we came back home, where more people joined us, to have a little get-together lunch in honor of the birthday girl. Super easy...that I would do it again in a heartbeat.

We went to CEC right when it opened at 10am. Maybe it was because it was a Sunday, maybe it was because of daylight saving, but the place was empty when we arrived. What a nice surprise to not be surrounded by a bunch of hyper kids. An added bonus: When they flipped on the switch, tickets came flying out of each machine and we went around and grabbed them all! Haha, off to a very good start!
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At first we thought that we could probably handle all the kids on our own, but I am definitely glad that the parents came along too. There was no way we could have kept track of everyone's tokens and tickets. Not to mention that everyone all wanted to run off in different directions.

All the kids left with some goodies about 90 minutes later -- candies, stickers, tattoos, plastic things. Will hit the jackpot with a toy rocket, worth 200 tickets.
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Back home, this was the set-up. Pizza on the kitchen counter & fruit and veggie platters on the table. We over-estimated on the food, but it's always good to have extra rather than not enough. No one went home hungry. At least, I hope not.
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As for decorations, a couple days before the party, I hopped on Amazon (while watching Fuller House) and bought some party supplies. Everything red and yellow, the colors of Pokémon (her favorite thing at the moment). I could have re-used what we have from Will's birthday, but I wanted something more girly. I also decided to make a special Pokémon banner, instead of putting up same one I use every year, to tie in the Pokémon theme a bit more. It was a fun DIY. Anna helped me put together the goody bags, which she loved handing out at the party.
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^^The hubs cut those daffodils from the front yard that morning. They matched the color scheme perfectly.^^

The kids played, the adults chatted, and after the majority of guests left at 2pm, Anna opened her presents. She received lots of wonderful gifts, but I think her most favorite is this Pokémon chest tin to carry all her Pokémon goodies in.
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^^SO. HAPPY. Grandma's $500 cash present was no match.^^

So, that was the birthday party. So grateful that everyone was able to join us to celebrate Anna on such short notice. We literally just texted/emailed with a "Hey, Anna is turning 6. Want to come over for pizza and cake?" A huge, hearty THANK YOU to everyone.
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I don't really share too much personal stuff about Anna anymore on the blog, but here is a little bit about my newly minted 6 year old. As I mentioned, right now, she's all about Pokémon. She has this Pokémon book that she has flipped through so many times that the pages are falling out. She can spew out interesting facts about a lot of the Pokémon characters. Haha, I wish she was this diligent at schoolwork.

But in all seriousness, speaking of school, she's continuing to do very well, learning to read more and write more. Picking her up from school is a highlight in my day because she fills me in on the detail of school happenings as we drive home. Last week she told me that one of her goals at school is to write with more details and, that at guidance, they talked about being honest. She told me all this without any prompt and I just love it when she shares with me.

Currently, outside of school, Anna only has piano. I am not the type who cram the children's lives with tons of activities, but sometimes I do feel that our kids lack new experiences and learning opportunities and that they are going to be behind their peers. Am I over-thinking it? Maybe. But while I figure it out, I think to what seasoned parents have told me: Children NEED their unstructured free play time. If that's the case, I win the parenting award because my kids have plenty of those.
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^^First day as a 6 year old.^^

Tonight, as we were drawing together, I asked who her best friend is. She responded, "Marissa." I said, "Not Mama??" Then she said, "Marissa is my best school friend, but my BEST friend is Mama." OKAY, nice save, I will take it :)

At 6 years old, Anna is sweet, kind, and generous. I don't know anyone else who would be so willing to share half of her birthday loot with her little brother. "Will, you can have half of my Pokémon cards." Sure, she can be moody and demanding and downright annoying, but she's a kid, right? I can't believe 6 years have flown by....12 more years until she's out of the house. Someone hand me a tissue.

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Monday, March 7, 2016

monday morning (err, night) catch ups.

/1/ I feel like I haven’t been recording our family life on the blog lately. I mean, browsing through the last month and half of archives, it looks like I haven’t said much except about our Disney cruise. I love documenting our vacations, but I need to be better about documenting the everyday mundane happenings, which is the majority of our lives. So here goes...

/2/ Last Friday Anna celebrated the 100th Day of School in her kindergarten class. She was worried sick that the forecasted snow would cancel school, but luckily, it was just a little dusting. On that day, she had a great time counting 100 things and eating special treats. Life is good as a 5 year old.

/3/ Speaking of snow, I think we are finally done with it for the season. I lost count of how many snow days we had. This week, it is warming up to the 70s! Spring is in the air and I am happy :) Today after the kids came back from school, they just stayed outside while I cooked dinner. Love that.

/4/ The kids have subscriptions to Highlights and High Five magazines, and their favorite section in the magazines is the Hidden Pictures. So I bought them this book. It’s the best when I find them working together QUIETLY, searching for the hidden objects. I need to buy more puzzle books like it...something that is simple enough for them to do independently (read: so they leave me out of it), but also challenging. Suggestions?
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/5/ We have been reading these books from the library. I think I did a great job picking out a nice selection this time. Julia Donaldson rocks!
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/6/ Our Meadowlark Garden annual pass expired last August and this weekend seemed like the perfect time to get a new pass for the next 12 months. The Single Pass option ($35) gives us one membership card (for me) and one guest card (for Luke). Kids under 7 are free. (Just a little tip for the locals -- you don't have to buy the Family Pass just because you have a family!) Next time we buy/renew though, we will have to pay $45 for the Family Pass, which is still totally worth it for us to support this beautiful place.
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/7/ Last week while Luke was away on travel, I binged on Fuller House after the kiddos are asleep. Just me, the couch, and a bag of salt & pepper potato chips. Yep, it was as good as it sounds. Few thoughts: Bob Saget looks weird now, Uncle Jesse hasn't aged, and Kimmy Gibbler is still my favorite, haha.

/8/ C'mon Gilmore Girls!!

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Saturday, March 5, 2016

my newest treasures

I recently made two photo books. One is of our trip to LA last summer (long overdue!), and the other one is of our Disney cruise that happened just last month.
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^^I am obsessed with the LA book cover!^^

LA was a lot of fun and we did so much that there were lots of photos I wanted to include in the 20-page photo book. Part of the reason why LA was great was because we stayed with Luke's uncle and across the street from his house was this amazing park, so I dedicated a two-page spread to just his neighborhood.
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^^The lighthouse is inside Cerritos Library, which we could walk to from Uncle Vincent's house. We could also walk to a Walmart. Oh, and a BUBBLE TEA place.^^

As I said, I tried to cram in as many pictures as possible, but I think I overdid it with the Disneyland page. That was a special (not to mention, long) day and I can't believe I didn't use more pages for it. If I could have a do-over, I would move the Little Tokyo page and have a few larger Disneyland pictures.
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Now that I am more seasoned at making photo books, I don't always group pictures by the date that they were taken. Instead, I organize them by categories. In this spread below, it is all about the good food we ate in LA.
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For the back cover, I used a photo of me and Luke at Hollywood Blvd, because sometimes it's not all about the kids :)
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And here is a few pages from the Disney cruise photo book:
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THE biggest part of cruising is eating!!
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I love these books and it makes my mama heart very happy to see my photo book collection growing bit by bit!

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Tutorial: Print on Brown Paper Bags

In Anna's class, instead of sending birthday treats for everyone, the birthday child brings this thing called "Birthday in a Bag". Basically, the parents fill up the bag with treats (edibles or non-edibles) and the birthday kid opens the bag during snack time when the class sings Happy Birthday.

I have a few ideas on what will go in the bag (homemade Pokémon stickers, a cookie), but I thought it would be fun to decorate the bag itself too. Sure I could have decorated the bag with my chicken scratch, but printing on the brown bag is much more fun and cute. Besides, what else was I going to do on a Sunday night? :)

Here is my final result and I am really happy with it!
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Materials: brown lunch bag, washi tape, printer

Step 1: Create an artwork you want to print on the bag in Photoshop.
Step 2: Open up Word and make the document size the same size as the paper bag (11x5). Insert the artwork image and position it just the way you like it. Make sure to do a print preview. When I did that, I realized that I actually had to put the artwork off-center in Word in order for it to print centered. Weird.
Step 3: Do a test print and see how your printer prints. For my printer, I needed the printed side up with the top part of the bag going into the printer first.
Step 4: Tape down the opening and flap of the paper bag. Put the bag in the printer.
Step 5: Change the setting on the printer for extra thick paper and click print.
Step 6: Remove tape and fill the bag with goodies for the birthday child.
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{For the artwork, I used fonts KG Happy and MTF Sweet Sky Dings}

[+/-] Extra Sugar!